by John Vannie
Notre Dame unveiled a powerful running attack and used its size and speed advantage to crush Navy by 50-10 on Saturday in Dublin, Ireland. The Irish rolled up nearly 500 yards of offense – almost 300 of it on the ground – as quarterback Everett Golson engineered a balanced and efficient game plan. Theo Riddick and George Atkinson, Jr. ran for over 200 yards while Golson was 11 of 17 for 153 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, Notre Dame’s defensive front seven forced turnovers and shut down the outmanned Midshipmen in an impressive performance.
The Irish took the opening kickoff and ripped through Navy’s defense with a mix of runs and crisp passes. Riddick capped the 75-yard march with an 11-yard burst. The first of two missed extra points kept the score at 6-0. Navy tried to answer with a drive of its own, but Manti Te’o and friends stuffed quarterback Trey Miller on a fourth and one at the Notre Dame 30. Four plays later, Atkinson cut back a sweep and broke into the clear, easily outrunning the Midshipmen secondary for a 56-yard score and a 13-0 lead after only 12 minutes had expired.
Golson hit DeVaris Daniels on the next possession for a 35 yard gain to set up the next Irish score early in the second period. The drive was capped by Golson’s first career touchdown pass, a five yard fade to Tyler Eifert. Navy then put together a drive with an assist from a facemask penalty, but Miller let the ball slip out of his hand under pressure from Ishaq Williams. Stephon Tuitt picked it up and rumbled 77 yards for score to make it 27-0 late in the quarter. The Midshipmen got on the board as the half ended on a short field goal by Nick Sloan, but poor clock management negated a chance to score a touchdown.
Navy did throw a scare into the Irish fan base in the third quarter when they took the kickoff and marched 75 yards with relative ease on three pass plays. Miller hit Shawn Lynch from 25 yards for the score, beating KeiVarae Russell to the post. With its lead cut to 27-10, Notre Dame cranked up the offense and moved smartly downfield with a mix of runs and passes. Troy Niklas and T.J. Jones made key receptions before Atkinson walked in from three yards out. A second extra point was missed due to a botched hold and the Irish lead was 33-10. When Riddick scored again a few minutes later to make it 40-10, it was time to clear the bench.
Nick Tausch added a field goal in the fourth quarter after Andrew Hendrix came in at quarterback. After Williams forced another fumble, Robby Toma capped the scoring with a nine yard run in the final minute. Navy could not mount a threat after its success early in the second half, primarily due to turnovers and relentless pressure by the Irish front. Although Miller was 14 of 19 for 197 yards, much of that was earned in the 75 yard sequence. Miller suffered one interception, had a fumble returned for a touchdown by Tuitt, was sacked three times and pressured on several occasions.
Notre Dame played a clean game with very few penalties and mistakes. As hoped, Golson was protected from pressure and was not asked to perform superhuman tasks. The plays were run with good tempo with only a couple of exceptions where timeouts were required.
Let’s review our pregame questions to see how the Irish fared overall.
Will Riddick and Atkinson gain enough rushing yards to compensate for the loss of Wood? Definitely. The pair accounted for more than 200 yards, and Cam McDaniel also ran well in fourth quarter duty.
Can Navy’s offense control the clock and manage the scoreboard? Not at all. The Middies were forced to the air, which is not their sweet spot. Their best drive of the first half resulted in a turnover and score by Tuitt.
Will one or more of the Irish wide receivers emerge as a reliable target in the post-Michael Floyd era? The downfield passing game was not featured or required in this game, but Daniels looked good at times and Jones made a couple of nice gains after the catch. All three tight ends also contributed.
How will Notre Dame’s cornerbacks handle the multiple challenges of an option offense? The secondary struggled in defending the edge against the pitch due to missed tackles, and overall coverage was poor at times. This group will be tested extensively as the season progresses.
Can Golson demonstrate the play-making ability with his arm and legs that won him the starting job? Yes, his passes were crisp and mostly accurate. Only once did he lock onto a receiver and throw it late, resulting in an interception. He did extend plays with his quickness but was not forced to scramble often.
How will Notre Dame’s players and coaches handle adversity during the contest? After Navy scored quickly to open the second half, the Irish put together a solid drive to retake control of the ballgame.
Will Notre Dame’s performance be good enough to keep me awake throughout the game? Yes, but the Irishman who did the jig in the end zone turned in the second best play of the game after Atkinson’s 56-yard romp. I’m also a sucker for David Feherty’s schtick.
Notre Dame will open the home version of its season next week against Purdue, and it was good to get Golson’s debut out of the way in such a successful and stress-free manner. The running game appears very solid and should help the young quarterback settle in before bigger tests loom on the schedule. As compared to where the program stood after last year’s opener, this season is already a lot more fun.